Pharmacists would be able to prescribe pain medication, asthma inhalers and medicines for hypertension and diabetes under a plan put forward by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA).
The move comes as the 60-day dispensing legislation takes effect on 1 September – a change that has upset pharmacists but which is estimated to save six million Australians up to $180 a year for each medicine.
In a paper, the PGA argues that the practice of pharmacists prescribing simple medications is common in other countries, and could go a long way towards easing the burden on GPs here.
Professor Trent Twomey, PGA national president, says it shows the urgent need to enable pharmacists to work to their full abilities.
“Pharmacists doing more not only benefits patients, it also takes pressure off our health system and benefits the economy not just now but for future generations,” he says.
“Treatment for many non-urgent presentations to emergency departments are within the scope of practice of pharmacists and can easily be dealt with at a community pharmacy.
“This frees up emergency beds and waiting times to see a GP who can focus on complex and complicated health conditions.”
The PGA paper was prepared in support of the federal government’s Strengthening Medicare Taskforce Report, which looked at ways to increase the capacity of the healthcare system and ensure more Australians can access suitable healthcare.
That report identified a need to move some health services away from overworked GPs, especially since the average out-of-pocket cost for a doctor’s visit has now reached $42.55 and that only 52 per cent of people are ‘always bulk-billed’ at their GP.
There was an 8.1 per cent point drop in the overall rate of GP bulk-billing in the past financial year, from 88.3 per cent down to 80.2 per cent of services, which represents the lowest point in a decade.
But the plan to expand pharmacists’ role is not without its detractors, with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) currently running the ‘You deserve more’ campaign aimed at convincing Aussies this is the wrong plan.
Professor Steve Robson, AMA president, says patients deserve more than trials that threaten safety, fragment care and “undermine Australia’s world-class health system”.
“Governments should be investing in evidence-based solutions to improve access to general practice and affordability of medicines,” he says.
“Patients deserve access to the full range of treatments and holistic doctor-led care, rather than being treated as a customer at a counter. They deserve the care of someone who has the qualifications to properly diagnose them, who can take the time to ensure they get the best health outcomes.”
“Allowing pharmacists to unilaterally prescribe medicines has the real potential to harm patients and turns on its head the time-honoured principles of separating prescribing and dispensing to prevent conflicts of interest.”
Would you support pharmacists being granted prescription powers? Or should that be left to trained doctors? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.